Monday, August 15, 2016

Game of Thrones Candied Onions

Ooooo, I am in a quirky mood today!  I wanted to do something different for this blog post but the new cookbooks were not meeting that need.  What to do???

There is a section in my cookbook collection that is for silliness:  a Star Trek cookbook, a Green Eggs and Ham cookbook, and so on.  What caught my eye today was The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook, by Alan Kistler.

ISBN 978-1-4405-3872-8
It is an amusing book if you are a GofT fan (I've read the books).  The recipes are mostly standard and common ones, like leek soup, black bread, rib roast, leg of lamb.  But their names are tied to characters and places from that world and that makes it cute.

In Chapter 2, "A Morsel in a Moment:  Appetizers and Snacks", I found

The Cheesemonger's Candied Onions (page 52)

1 bag (2 cups) peeled pearl onions
2 teaspoons sugar or brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1 cup cold water

And water
1.  In a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, combine onions, sugar, salt, and butter with 1 cup cold water; bring to a simmer.

2.  Cook gently until all water is absorbed and onions are coated in a light glaze, about 5 minutes.

3.  Reduce heat to low.  Cook slowly until glaze browns and onions attain golden-brown appearance, about 5 minutes more.

4.  Alternative method:  Once liquid is reduced to a glaze, put the entire pan in a preheated 350 degree oven, and roast until browned.

(Ed.:  The recipe suggests you use fresh onions if possible; they are better than the frozen and peeled kind.)

My Notes

It took me about 20 minutes to peel the onions, which is what the book said it would take.  I put the ingredients into the cast iron skillet in the order it listed but I then wished I had added the onions after I had stirred the other ingredients together first.  It didn't appear to be a problem, though.

I was suspicious about the timing listed in the recipe:  using medium heat, would the 1 cup of water be absorbed or evaporated in about five minutes?  The same went for step three.  It just didn't seem like enough time.

Here was my dilemma:  Do I follow the instructions according to time?  Or according to description?  I chose description.

Starting to simmer
It took about 5 minutes for the water to simmer.  Then another 30 minutes or so to reduce the water to almost nothing.  To achieve "cook gently", I turned the heat down to medium low once the simmer started.  Perhaps too gently?

Water nearly gone after 30 minutes
Then it took another 30 minutes to get some browning of glaze and onions.  That was with the heat to low.  Perhaps too low?

Some browning.  This is where I stopped the cooking
When finished it appeared that the onions were thoroughly cooked and very soft.  What confused me about that was the recipe said fresh onions are better than frozen because of "the sweetness and crunch."  What crunch?

The Verdict

The recipe did not specify serving them hot, warm, or cold.  I tried one hot, then one warm, then one cold after it had been chilled for a few hours.

Hot:  Very tasty!  Lightly sweet from the glaze, lightly sweet and meaty from the onion, and, surprisingly, I got a mild acid, vinegar taste, too.  It was a nice surprise.  This would be good to serve as a condiment next to roast meat.

Warm:  Even better!  Buttery, a mild onion flavor, and a light blend of sweet and salty.  I noticed a bit of a crunch from a larger onion.  I tasted the glaze without the onion, too, and liked that.  That is where I got the acid flavor.  This would be good as a condiment or hors d'oeuvre.

Cold: Tasty!  Like the hot version in flavor but a bit more sticky.

I liked the warm version the best because the flavors were more distinct.


To be honest, I expected either a thicker sugar coating on the soft onions or a thin but crackly candy coating on nearly raw onions.  I got neither.  I am glad the onions were soft and not bitey.  I'm not sure if I would want more sweet coating on them or not.

So what sort of candied onion recipes might I find in our world?

This looked good:  Candied Red Onions.  It uses red onions, red wine vinegar, and sugar.

This, too:  Candied Onions.  It uses white onions, salt, butter, sugar, and steak sauce.

The idea that did not look good was someone using pearl onions dipped in chocolate as a prank!  (Although, hmmmm.  A cooked onion dipped in dark chocolate?  Might be worthwhile, especially if it is a little salty.)

The basic idea of all these recipes is to get the onion cooked enough to be enjoyable eating and then getting a tasty glaze on it to enhance the flavor.  I think you could play around with the spices and liquids to customize the flavor to match your entree.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Custard, Again. Baked and with Eggs (intentionally)

Whew!  July was a busy month and I barely got to cook, much less cook for my blog.

My experience with eggless custards and the nifty book, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons,

ISBN-13:  978-1-4494-2313-1

made me want to try one of her egged custards.

Reference Custard #2
How would unbaked be different from baked?  Eggless from egged?  I had to try.  (Besides, the weather has been very hot and I have learned that custards are an excellent dessert:  cool, light, not too sweet, and excellent with berries.  Refreshing!)

My Redaction

1 quart whole milk
2 tablespoons sugar
6 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon moscato wine (sweet)
1/2 tablespoon rose water
generous grating of nutmeg

I like the dramatic look of this picture.
All ingredients were mixed well.  The nutmeg tends to float on top; I don't know how to change that.

The custard mix was ladled into small glass and ceramic bowls.  Each one held about 4 ounces of the mix even if the bowl could have held more.  

The oven was preheated to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

I placed the bowls in a deep pan, placed the pan on the oven rack, then poured hot water into the pan until the water level was close to even with the custard mix level.

Pre-water.  It is easier to move into the oven that way.
The custards were baked for 30 minutes.  That is when a knife blade dipped into the center of a custard came out clean.  Visually the custard was "jiggly" and a little puffy.

Dipping in the knife
The blade is clean
The pan was carefully removed (no hot water spills!) and set out to cool a little.  Then I used a spatula to lift the bowls from the water.  They went right into the refrigerator without any covering.

The Verdict

After chilling them for a few hours, I served the custard.  It was firm, smooth, and pleasant to look at.  The berries sat on top instead of sinking in (as they did for the unbaked custards).  

A spoonful shows how well the custard set up:  you can see an edge on it.

The texture was smooth, creamy, soft, delicate.  

The flavor was not at all what I expected.  I loved the custard taste and feel but I could not taste the brandy or the wine and only tasted a little of the nutmeg.  It mostly tasted like rosewater.  

I love rosewater but that was not the only flavor I wanted.  I also love the brandy and nutmeg flavor combination so I was disappointed.  I don't mind I didn't taste the wine and perhaps next time I would make it a little sweeter.  However I would use less rosewater and much more brandy and nutmeg!

Vanilla would be good, too.

There were enough bowls of custard that I tried it in different ways.  My favorite was for breakfast with some buttered, spiced crumbs on top along with a little fruit. 

This was a success.  I would just change the flavorings to suit my preferences.  Yum!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Eggless, No-Bake Custard -- Again and Again

Previously I attempted to make a custard that had no eggs and that could be made on the stovetop.  While that didn't quite work out, I did manage to save the food and make a good dessert.  See the recipe here:  Eggless, No-Bake Custard, A Tasty Failure.

Undaunted, I tried again.  Twice.  Here's what happened.

In the very first attempt I used heavy whipping cream and did not see any of the required curdling.  My Internet reading suggested that a better choice would be half-and-half because less cream would allow more curdling opportunities.

Let me note here that the first attempt did look a bit grainy, which I suspect was curdling.  It never got thick, which I think was because I put in too much wine.

So for attempt number two I used half-and-half.  I used the same amount of sugar (2 tablespoons), the same wine, and just a little more of the spices.

I definitely saw curdling but it didn't get very thick at all.  Again, I think I put in too much wine even though I used less than in the first attempt.

I expected bigger curds, like I saw when I made Green Cheese.  However this is good because the little curds contributed very little to the texture.

It was served in a bowl garnished with a few berries.  It was thin enough that the berries sank!

Overall it was tasty and I would call it a success.  Creamy and slightly sweet.  The spice flavors came through and were pleasant.   Light, cool, and refreshing; just right for a hot day.

When the custard sat in the refrigerator for a few hours, it separated.  The curds on top were thicker and still tasty.  The liquid below tasted like thin wine with a bit of spice.  Not bad but not exciting.  I suppose I could put it in oatmeal or bread for flavor.

One guest taster suggested that the berries become the main part of the dessert and the custard become the topping.  This gave me a focus for the third attempt.

So one more try!  Honest!  I had to call it "Custard's Last Stand" to convince my family there would be no more attempts.  (They groaned.)

I used all the same ingredients as before except I forgot to add the spices at the end.  I measured the wine, putting in one tablespoon at a time, until I saw curdling.  It took 7 tablespoons to accomplish what I thought was a decent amount of curdling.

And then...

And then I was called away to take care of something and completely forgot that the custard was sitting on the stove on the (thankfully) very lowest heat.  I don't know how long it sat there.  When I found it, I hurriedly stirred it, put it in a bowl, and popped into the refrigerator, crossing my fingers that it wasn't ruined.

It wasn't!

In fact, it was excellent:  thick and creamy and flavorful with very little separation.  Certainly not the "curds and liquid" layers from attempt number two.  Really just a thicker part on top and a thinner part (both with curds) on the bottom.  The curds were bigger but still not a texture issue.

The missing spices were not missed.  I used the custard as a topping on a mixture of strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

The second time I served it I added a mixture of breadcrumbs that had been mixed with butter and spices.  Actually it was the same mixture that I use to press into a pan as a crust for a tart, just not baked.  That added a nice crunch and a very light touch of cinnamon.  Note that I just sprinkled a few finger-fulls on top of the custard.

The berries were sweet and a little tart.  The custard was creamy, a little sweet, and a little tart from the wine.  The crunchy topping was, well, crunchy to offset the creamy and bring the flavors all together.

An unqualified success!

We had the same dessert several nights in a row and thoroughly enjoyed it each time.  Very refreshing.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Eggless, No-Bake Custard -- A Tasty Failure

I recently acquired a new book, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons.

ISBN-13: 978-1-4494-2313-1
First published in 1796 by Hudson & Goodwin, American Cookery is widely recognized as the first cookbook written by an American for American kitchens, and it is an important document in culinary history.  
It is a facsimile edition where the left page is in modern typeset and the right page is a scan of a copy in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society (AAS).   No redactions or interpretations of the recipes are included; the book is a faithful reproduction of the old version.  You can read more about it here.

When I found this book for sale, I was not certain at all I should buy it.  I had the strong feeling that I had read it already and didn't want to purchase a second copy.  But it was beautifully done with a red cloth cover and gold foil stamping, so I decided it was worth it.

As it turned out, I had read it but didn't own a print edition.  I had found a digital copy on my iPad.

The section that caught my attention the most was on custards.  There were several recipes offered, the first of which was to be cooked on the stove (not baked) and did not contain eggs.  I thought that was different enough that it might be worth a try.  When I found the digital copy, I was amused to see that I had bookmarked the page on custards already.

Digital page screen shot
So I decided to give the eggless, no-bake custard a try.  It seemed like a good recipe to know for when I am doing a public cooking demonstration since I usually cook over charcoal and rarely bake.

My Redaction

1 pint heavy whipping cream
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 bottle Moscato sweet wine
ground cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

More added later; see below.
I put the cream in a medium saucepan and started warming it over very low heat.  As it was warming I added the sugar, mixing in 1 tablespoon at a time, and tasting until it seemed right.  Two tablespoons made the cream very mildly sweet and I liked that, especially knowing that the wine was sweet.

Once the cream was too hot for me to keep my finger dipped in it, I started adding the wine.  It went in a few splashes at a time, stirring well with each addition.  The pan was still over the very low fire.

I watched it carefully for signs of curdling and nothing happened after 1/2 of a bottle.  At that point I felt the mixture was more wine than cream and that curdling wasn't going to occur.  I let it sit over the heat a while longer, to the point where bubbles were forming, and then I mixed in about 1/4 teaspoon each (maybe a little less) of the cinnamon and nutmeg.  At this point I turned off the heat under the saucepan.

Nope, it didn't curdle and didn't even thicken.  What happened?  What can I do to save it?

Nope.  Not curdled.
I decided to heat the oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the meantime I beat three eggs, tempered them by adding several spoonfuls of the hot cream mixture and stirring well in between each addition, then poured the egg mixture into the saucepan and stirred some more.

I then set up a water bath (bain marie) with two nesting casserole dishes and put very hot water into the outer dish.  The custard mixture went into the inner dish.

Just before the water was added.
The whole thing baked for 1 hour to set up the custard.  Then the inner pan went into the refrigerator for a few hours.

The Verdict

Well, the idea of the eggless, no-bake custard didn't work out so that was a failure.

The baked custard with eggs, however, turned out to be quite tasty!  The custard itself was very light and delicate.  There was a mixture of subtle flavors:  slightly spicy, somewhat acidic (it was the wine but it made us think of lemon).  The texture appeared grainy but I couldn't detect it by taste and feel.  It was creamy but not rich and just very lightly sweet.

One taste tester noted that it was an excellent dessert after a long and hot day.  It was cool, refreshing, "mellow", and light.

I served it topped with a few fresh blackberries and two small leaves of mint.  That all went well with the custard.

Pretty good for a failure!
I wondered why the recipe didn't work as specified.  A quick check of the 'net explained what probably happened:  Most people don't want their cream to curdle when adding alcohol (funny!) so the discussions recommended using heavy cream instead of something like half-and-half because the fat content stops the protein from curdling when it encounters the acid in the wine.  (See article here.)

Ah ha!  Now I think I should have used light cream or half-and-half so the wine can curdle it.  Perhaps I can try it again.

By the way, you can acquire copies of many of the AAS's cookbooks from their publisher's webpage.  Some are in print, some are digital downloads, including a copy of Directions for Cooking by Troops, in Camp and Hospital by Florence Nightingale, which I find intriguing.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Sugar Smoking -- A Technique from Hong Kong/Kowloon

My mom is at the age where she really doesn't want to cook much any more.  I don't blame her -- she has spent a lot of her life cooking and I think she has earned a break.  Of course this means she doesn't want many of her cookbooks, so I took the opportunity to abscond with, um, ask her politely for one book that has intrigued me for a while.  It is titled How the World Cooks Chicken, by H. J. Muessen.  Published in 1980, her book no longer had the dust jacket, so I found an image of it on the web:
ISBN 978-0812861952
The chapters are divided up into regions of the world, like "The Pacific", "The Orient", "Asia", "Africa", and so on.  Many of the recipes look intriguing, although the ones from Africa would be a challenge for me since I am not fond of spicy food.  Nearly every recipe in that chapter is spicy!

The recipe that caught my attention was on page 40, from the Hong Kong/Kowloon area.  Mr. Muessen says,
The Chinese use hickory, walnut, or other woods in smoking their meats just as we do, but another method, which gives an entirely different taste, is sugar smoking.  This is best done in an outdoor covered barbecue, but it can be done in your oven, although one should have the exhaust fan on throughout.
Sugar-Smoked Duck (or Chicken)

1 4-pound duck (or 3 pound chicken)
1 quart water
1 onion, quartered
10 peppercorns
1/2 cup brown sugar

Bird and first cooking ingredients
6 tablespoons peanut oil
1/4 teaspoon anise seed powder
1 clove garlic, minced
6 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sherry

Marinade and smoking ingredients
Place the bird in the water in a large kettle and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat, skim off the scum, then add the onion, salt, and peppercorns.  Cover, and cook slowly (duck 1 1/2 hours, chicken 1 hour).  Now cut the bird into individual servings or into 16 pieces if you wish.  (See page 35.)

Mix together the marinade ingredients and stir to blend thoroughly.  Pour the marinade over the chicken pieces in a large bowl, turning to coat each piece.  Let stand, covered, for 1 hour.

When the meat is ready, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line the bottom of a large, ovenproof pot with foil and place a small rack inside.  Add 1/2 of the sugar.  Place the meat on the rack and cover the kettle with foil, then place a lid on tightly, forming a seal. Put the kettle in the oven for 10 minutes, and allow the sugar to burn and thus smoke.

Now remove the kettle and reline the pan if necessary, and add the remaining sugar.  Reline the top of the kettle, and return to the oven to smoke for another 10 minutes.  The meat should turn a rich mahogany color, and the sugar-smoke taste will have permeated the meat.  Brush lightly with a little peanut oil and serve.  Serves 4 - 6.

My Notes

I used a chicken and let the bird slowly cook for about 1 hour, 30 minutes over the lowest heat my stove top could give.

It came out of the liquid (which was later turned into lentil soup!) and into a bowl where it cooled to the point where I could handle it.  I cut it into twelve pieces total and that seemed just fine.  Then the pieces went into a flat-bottom dish.

For the marinade I used freshly ground star anise seeds, canola oil, sweet cream sherry, fresh garlic, and low sodium soy sauce.  I poured it over the meat, then turned the pieces over and started the timer.  After 30 minutes I turned the pieces over again to marinate for another 30 minutes.

Once the hour marinating time was up, I drained off the marinade and put the meat into the refrigerator.

My neighbor had kindly agreed to get his barbecue hot for my grand experiment.  He used lump charcoal and heated the barbecue to 375 degrees F.

In the meantime I formed two trays out of foil, putting in about 1/4 cup (unpacked) of brown sugar into the bottom of each one.

We smoked the meat this way:  I put the chicken on the grills, he pushed the grills apart to expose the coals, and I put the foil tray directly on the coals.  Then he slid the grills together, closed the lid, and vented the top just a little bit.

First smoking, preturning.
It took a few minutes for the smoke to start showing but then it did and we opened the lid when the smoke levels dropped.  At that point he turned the meat over, slid apart the grills, and took out the first foil tray.  I put in the second tray and he got the lid closed again.

First smoking, some turned.
First smoking, nearly all turned
In both cases it took less than 10 minutes for the smoke to start up and then die down.  It made both of us think of teriyaki chicken.

While the second smoking was going on, we looked at the first tray.  The sugar had completely carbonized and was nearly odorless and tasteless.  Yes, we tasted it and found no flavor but there was a texture that made me think I was eating dirt.  Ugh!  I don't recommend it.

Do not eat this at home.  Or anywhere else!
The final result was a beautiful mahogany color.  The chicken smelled so good we could hardly wait to taste it.  I served it with hot bread and a simple green salad.

Beautiful in looks and in taste.
The Verdict

Let's put it this way:  I tentatively nibbled the first piece (I was worried it would have a burnt flavor) and then enthusiastically devoured it.  And a few more pieces.  Oh yes, I remembered to eat the salad and bread, too!

The flavor was amazing.  I couldn't say exactly what part was the sugar smoking and what part was the marinade but the overall taste combination was excellent.  I had hints of the anise, some lovely bitter from the soy and sherry, and a rich umami in every bite.  The meat was moist, even the breast meat which I usually dislike because it tends to be dry.

I would do it again and my taste testers agreed they would enjoy it again, too.  After the meat is cooked and marinated, it was very easy and quick to get it smoked.

As I was wolfing it down enjoying my meal, it occurred to me that this marinating and smoking combination might be good to use on salmon.  I wouldn't cook it first but just marinate it and smoke it, being careful to not let it overcook.

Success!  Oh my yes, success.  Excellent and flavorful and a great, fun, and intriguing food to serve at a party.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

How to Pickle Mushrooms

I was enjoying the book Dining with William Shakespeare by Madge Lorwin, which I wrote about in a previous post, "My Salmon is Soused..." when I came across (on page 18) a recipe called "How to Pickle Mushrooms."  

The original recipe was cited as from William Rabisha's The whole Body of Cookery Dissected.

Actually the full title of the book is The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected, Taught and Fully Manifested, Methodically, Artificially, and According to the Best Tradition of the English, French, Italian, Dutch, &c., Or, A Sympathy of All Varieties in Natural Compounds in that Mysterie, which amuses me to no end.  I think today we would use the word "artfully" instead of "artificially".  

You can download a PDF of this book consisting of scanned images at

Image taken from the Library of Congress Rare Books Collection
This is the 1673 edition.  The first edition arrived in 1661 and four more editions were published over the next 20 years.  You can purchase facsimile print copies, mostly of the 1682 edition.  Once I had downloaded the Library of Congress file of the 1673 version, I found the recipe on page 2 of Book I, right after "How to Pickle Cowcumbers."

Mr. Rabisha presents himself as a person who was raised right and was trained in the art of cooking. He was a master cook in England and in foreign places to ambassadors and nobles alike.  He wished to share his "small endeavors" with the public in hopes of assisting the young "Practitioners" of the art.

What I really love is the poem "In Commendation of the Author" (first stanza):

Cooks burn your Books, and vail your empty brains; 
Put off your feigned Aprons, view the strains
Of this new piece, whose Author doth display
The bravest dish, and shew the nearest way
T' inform the lowest Cook how he may dress,
And make the meanest meat the highest mess;
To please the Fancy of the daintiest Dame,
And sute her palate that she may praise the same.
Give him return of worth, (besides due wages)
And recommend his book to future ages.
Let it be know Rabisha here hath hit,
The fairest passage that hath dared it.
     But read his Book, and judge his Pains,
     His is the labour, yours the gains.

This poem goes on for two pages, describing the contents of the different parts (books) and the high quality of the recipes.

So let us take advantage of William Rabisha's labours and see what gains we get.

How to Pickle Mushrooms

Original version:

Take a bushell of Mushrooms, blanch them over the crown, barm them beneath; if they are new, they look red as a Cherry; if old, black; this being done, through them into a pan of boyling water, then take them forth and let them drain; when they are cold, put them up into your Pot or Glass, puth thereto Cloves, Mace, Ginger, Nutmeggs, whole Pepper; Then take white wine, a little Vinegar, with a little quantity of salt, so pour the Liquour into your Mushrooms, and stope them close for your use all the year.

Ms. Lorwin's "working version":

1/2 pound fresh young mushrooms, about 1 inch in diameter
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns
2 cloves
1 large piece of whole mace
1 thin slice fresh ginger
1/2 nutmeg, broken up
3/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon vinegar

Wash the mushrooms under cool running water.  Slice off the stems to within 1/2 inch of the caps.  Put the water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the mushrooms into a saucepan and bring to a rapid boil.  Drain the mushrooms immediately and put them into a half-pint, screw-top jar with the spices and the rest of the salt.  Pour the wine and the vinegar over them--if there is not enough liquid to cover the mushrooms, add more wine vinegar.

Cover the jar with a piece of plastic before screwing on the top--otherwise the vinegar will corrode the metal.  Turn the jar upside down several times to distribute the seasonings.  Store in a cool place (but do not refrigerate) for three or four days before using.

My Notes

I couldn't get all small mushrooms but instead halved or quartered the ones I could get.

I used cubebs instead of peppercorns because I could.  I don't have whole mace so I used 1/4 teaspoon of ground mace.  Instead of fresh ginger I used one large slice (halved) of candied ginger.  I used a dry Chardonnay and apple cider vinegar.

The spices
I called it a "rapid boil" when the water was foaming around the mushrooms.

It truly seemed like the mushrooms wouldn't fit in a half pint jar, so I cleaned and microwave-sterilized a pint jar.  This was too big and I hoped the extra air in the jar wouldn't make difference in the flavor.

It didn't seem like the amount of liquid called for was enough so I added some more cider vinegar.  It might have been too much because the mushrooms started floating above the bottom of the jar.

It filled more than half of the jar
Overall the preparation was very easy and I would be willing to do it again and in greater quantities. Assuming it tastes good!

The finished jar was labeled and placed in a storage cupboard for a few days.

The Verdict

We waited four days to taste the mushrooms.  All three of us enjoyed it.  I didn't put in too much cider vinegar after all, although I think it would still taste fine without as much.  If I do this again, I think I will just barely blanch the mushrooms -- they were cooked more than I thought they would be.

Overall, the taste was slightly sour from the vinegar, a little sweet (from the wine?  from the candied ginger?), and the spices were present and interesting but not particularly dominant.  Just right, I would say.


Ms. Lorwin notes that
Pickled mushrooms were used as "salad" appetizers both when mushrooms were in season and during the cold months to add some zest to usually heavy meals.
Sounds good to me!

I would like to close with the final few lines of the "In Commendation of the Author" poem:

Therefore brave Book, into the world be gone,
Thou vindicates thy Author; fearing none
That ever was, or is, or e're shall be,
Able to find the parallel to thee.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Corn Sticks - Playing with a Kitchen Gadget

I had made a chicken stew with a Mexican flair:  chunks of chicken thighs with diced tomatoes, carrots, onions, black olives, black beans, chicken broth, and garlic, which was spiced with cumin, oregano, coriander, salt, and pepper.  It was all cooked in one big pan over a very slow fire and the flavors came together into a fragrant blend.

For one breakfast it was heated and put in a burrito-size flour tortilla with scrambled eggs, salsa (mild, because I am a wimp), and shredded Jack cheese.  But for this particular dinner I offered up a bowl full of hot stew topped with shredded Cheddar cheese.  I wanted something like corn bread to go with it.

One of the lovely parts of cornbread is the crispy crust.  I realized that there was no better way to maximize that crust than to make corn sticks in my old, cast iron corn stick pan.

My inherited beauty
It is lovely.  The individual sticks look like ears of corn and, because you put the batter into the cups when the pan is very hot, even the part touching the pan turns out crispy.

My old friend, Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, came in handy for the right recipe.

In the section called "Quick Breads" I found a recipe called "Canary Corn Sticks"  (page 70).

Canary Corn Sticks
from Ohio

Beat 1 egg.

Beat in 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
             1/2 tsp soda
             1/2 cup sifted Gold Medal flour
             1 1/2 cups corn meal
             1 tsp. sugar
             3 tsp. baking powder
             1 tsp. salt
             1/4 cup soft shortening

Pour or spoon into buttered hot square pan, muffin cups, or corn stick pans (see Betty's notes, below).  Bake just until set.  Serve piping hot with butter.  

Temperature:  450 degrees F (hot oven).

Time: Bake 10 to 15 minutes for corn sticks.  

Betty's Notes

Beat egg.  Beat in with rotary beater milk, dry ingredients, soft shortening (bacon fat is good). Beat just until smooth.

Generously butter 12 corn stick pans ... Heat in oven while mixing batter.

Pour batter into hot pans until almost full.

My Notes

I keep dried, sweet cream buttermilk around so I reconstituted it with water and mixed it into the beaten egg in a big bowl.  Then I mixed the dry ingredients together in another bowl until they were well mixed.

Once the dry and wet ingredients were put into the same bowl, I used a vegetable shortening and cut it through the mixture while stirring.  This still left small bits of shortening in the batter.

The corn stick pan was oiled (not buttered) and, when removed from the oven, was very hot and the oil was smoking a little.  The batter sizzled when I spooned it in.

First batch cooked.
After 10 minutes they were ready.  I made a second batch, too, which looked better than the first.

Second batch, overfilled.
But they turned out to be beautiful!
The Verdict

The first batch wasn't as fluffy as the second and had holes in it.  I think the oil on the pan fried the batter whereas in the second batch, it just kept the pan from being sticky.  But still they were both tasty!

I love the color assortment.
They were an excellent accompaniment to the stew in both flavor and having a crispy crust.  Some were soaked and dunked in the stew, others were buttered and eaten without the stew on them.  The corn taste made up for the lack of corn kernels I wanted to put in the stew but didn't have handy.


I ate more than this one stick.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Cold Spiced Chicken - A Relish

The cover of this book, Seven Centuries of English Cooking by Maxime de la Falaise is charming.

ISBN 0-8021-3296-0
Spend time looking at all the designs in the lady's hair and gown. They simply and creatively represent "English food from medieval times to the present."

Ms. de la Falaise's reasons for writing the book are straightforward:
First, I should like to give Anglo-Saxon people a feeling for the flavours, spices and typical dishes of the progressing centuries, enable them to recognize in themselves not only the family nose or red hair, the voice or mannerism, but their inherited attraction towards saffron, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, anchovies, mushrooms, sharp sauces, citrus tastes, puddings cream, butter, jam, pickles, dripping, bread and butter and boiled eggs that is also part of their nature and history.  Second, the book should enable readers, in a romantic way, to feel history through one of the senses:  taste. Once you have it in your power to cook the rudiments of a medieval royal banquet, an Elizabethan nursery breakfast, an eighteenth-century tavern lunch, or a savoury ice, you begin to see the people, their clothes, their furniture; you can almost hear their conversations as you eat their food. Pastures, crops, herds, great halls and palaces, boats bearing luxuries on rivers and seas, town houses and tea dances -- all become as clear as a film.
I have to say I agree with her.  The more I cook recipes from different eras and places, the more I feel the presence of their histories and the better appreciation I have for the people and their cultures.  It is what gives me so much pleasure in exploring my cookbook collection and maintaining this blog.

Ms. de la Falaise did her homework.  She spent time in both New York and England researching manuscripts and studying rare books.  She tries the recipes and redacts them for the modern kitchen. Her chapter, "From the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century", reviews the history of foodstuffs in England -- how and when they arrive, including the first sweet potato from the New World in 1564.  "These potatoes be the most delicate rootes that may be eaten, and doe farre exceed our passeneps or carets.  Their pines be of the bignes of two fists . .  and the inside eateth like an apple, but it is more delicious than any sweet apple sugared."  (Quoted from Richard Hakluyt in his Principall Navigations ... of the English Nation.)

I have read elsewhere that the sweet potatoes were rare and very expensive for about 100 years and were considered potent aphrodisiacs.

Once the time period had been covered, the chapter offers up recipes, often with the original recipe and its source cited as well.  My only criticism of her work is that sometimes she uses non-period foodstuffs in her redactions.  One example is on page 25 where for the "Soup in Three Colors" she uses a potato soup as the base.  I can understand her reasoning but I had hoped she would have found a recipe for a white soup and used that instead.

But never mind that.  I wanted to make her recipe on page 35, called

Cold Spiced Chicken
or Vyaund de Ciprysse Ryalle

This dish was served at the coronation feast of Henry IV at Westminster on 13 October 1399.  It is a delicious relish, rather like a chutney, and should be eaten as a garnish for roast chicken rather then as a dish by itself.
She cites the original source as Two Fifteenth-century Cookery Books, which I found as a free PDF download here:  edited by Thomas Austin and published in 1888.  (You can find more books here:  Medieval Cookery - Online Cookbooks/England.)

Serves 4
1/2 pint (1 cup) white wine
4 oz (1/2 cup) sugar
6 oz (1/2 cup) honey
1 tsp ground cloves
1 oz (1/4 cup) raisins
1 tsp grated lemon peel
3 egg yolks
1 1/4 lb (2 1/2 cups) cooked chicken, finely chopped
2 egg whites (optional)

Make a syrup of the wine and sugar and boil for 10 minutes, until thickened.  Reserve 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup).  Add the honey, cloves, raisins and lemon peel, then bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes.  Beat the egg yolks in a bowl and stir in the syrup.  Pour back into the saucepan and cook, stirring over low heat, without boiling, until thickened.  Stir in the chicken.  Pour into a 3-pint dish and pour the reserved syrup over the top.  Chill thoroughly. 

If you prefer a fluffier texture, fold in 2 whipped egg whites at the end, before pouring into the dish.

My Notes

I used a dry Chardonnay.

The chicken was boneless, skinless thighs that had been baked without any spices or herbs.  I used the food processor to get them "finely chopped" and was not entirely pleased with the resulting mealy texture of the meat.  I hoped the little round balls of chicken weren't going to be too weird in the final product.

Strange looking.
While the wine and sugar syrup was boiling, I measured out the honey and raisins, shredded the lemon peel (it took two of the small Meyers to get 1 teaspoon), and separated the eggs.  I decided that I did not want to fold in the egg whites to make it fluffier.

The wine syrup reduced quite a bit but there was plenty left after I reserved the 1/4 cup.  It was definitely thicker and syrupy.  Once the egg yolks were mixed in I could see the liquid was getting thicker but wasn't sure where to stop it.  How thick should it get?  I took it off the heat when it looked creamy.

Well, in the picture it doesn't look creamy.
There seemed to be a lot of sauce for the meat but not so much that I worried.  The only concern I had was that the chicken mixture was soft (unchilled) so when I poured the reserved syrup over it, some of it sank into the mixture.  I had thought it would be stiffer and the syrup would spread out.

Honest, it is NOT oatmeal.
I tasted some of the syrup that remained in the sauce pan and it was good!

The dish went into the refrigerator to chill.

The Verdict

We tasted it a two days later (it has been a busy time!).  I served it spread on plain crackers.

The first bite made me think of chutney, with the spicy zing of the cloves and the tartness of the wine and the sweetness of the honey and sugar.  The chicken flavor was really just an afterthought.  After a few bites I mostly tasted the cloves only.  I love cloves but I wanted more than just a sugared cloves flavor.

One guest taster thought the clove taste was too strong; the second guest taster thought it was just right.  I found that I liked the flavors best if there was a raisin in the mouthful and if the relish was spread thinly on the cracker.  "Thinly" is a relative term because I was really spreading it on thick at first. Just don't put so much on as to overwhelm your taste buds.

This is thinly in my book
We all liked it better when, instead of crackers, we spread the relish on a chunk of sharp cheddar cheese.  This conjured up ideas of how else to serve the relish:  yes, as a side condiment to roast chicken as given to Henry IV; as a side condiment to a side dish of sauteed apples and onions; or even as a topper to a cheddar cheese-and-apple tart.

Another guest taster wanted to try the relish with some black pepper sprinkled on top.  That was particularly good, especially to my taste buds.  I want to do that every time I eat it.

I noticed that the entire dish seemed too wet, even after being chilled for two days.  I think the syrup-to-chicken ratio was off.

If I were to make it again I would reduce the cloves amount a little (maybe 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon) and I would cook the syrup down more or increase the amount of chicken used so that the resulting relish was firmer before chilling.  Perhaps then I could form it into a ball or loaf shape and pour the reserved syrup over the top.  I would also be tempted to chop the chicken up by hand to get more of a flake look to the meat, instead of the little balls.

But I would call this a success.  I would love to serve it to others and I think they would enjoy it.

You can read about Maxime de la Falaise's life and career in an amusing Wikipedia article here.  She was a model, an actress, a food writer, and a designer who was considered to be very chic.  You can also see her obituary, which is interesting on its own.